Monday, July 18, 2016

Harbinger of a New Age

Greetings Everyone,

This week's story was based on my short story group's writing prompt "New Age". What makes it a little different is that the story is geared more toward the Young Adult genre, with a focus taking place in high school. I am considering making a longer novel out of it as I get the time.
In the meantime, I would enjoy getting any feedback!

Hope everyone is having a great week!

James Meadows

"Harbinger of a New Age"
by James J Meadows III

                Even the darkest tale of depravity, corruption, and power begins somewhere. Mine, I suppose, began as I crossed the hallway to my ninth grade reading class.

                “Hey!” I shouted, as my books were batted from my hands and scattered across the crowded hallway.

                “Oops, sorry,” snickered a large, robust black-haired boy holding a soda in this hand.

                His name was Broderick. He and the three friends flanking him were four of the school’s best athletes, biggest bullies, and most arrogant jerks. Not that they were alone in most of those traits. Since moving to Huntington, I had gotten the rather distinct impression that the last two categories covered about 90% of the students, all of whom could get away with it if they happened to fall into the first category.

                I, on the other hand, being one of the shortest and scrawniest kids in the entire class, only about four and a half-feet tall, was far from falling into any of those categories. As such, I was a perfect target to be picked on by all of those who did.

                Intent upon not giving them additional reasons or opportunities to abuse me and eager to get to my next class, I bent down to collect my books, which were being not-so-helpfully, kicked around by the passers-by rushing back and forth down the hall. No sooner did my hand touch the first book, then my efforts were awarded by a large spray of coke splattering across the back of my shirt, showering my head and neck.  

                “Oops,” Broderick snickered again, to the guffaws of his entourage. “Someone bumped into me.”

                I tried not to let my anger show on my face. That was exactly what they wanted: to see me react and get upset at their childish antics. Still, I found myself unable to resist the natural urge to shoot a dirty look at them while they laughed. This only caused them to laugh harder. I was about to look away when Broderick’s cell phone rang. A surprised look passed over Broderick’s face.

                “I thought I turned the volume off,” he muttered, yanking the phone from his pocket. I saw him swipe the phone, most likely entering his unlock pattern, and press a button with the words, “Some stupid text.”

                There was a brief pause. I didn’t know what he was reading. What I did know was I had never seen the color drain from someone’s face so quickly in my life. His jaw dropped, his eyes went wide, and I saw him start glancing back and forth down the hallway, as though trying to spot something. What he could be hoping to see amid the ocean of people swarming past was beyond my guess, and from the lost look on his face, he obviously didn’t see it.

                His friends were looking at him puzzled. He just shook his head, staring back at the phone with a look of abject terror. Slowly, he lowered the phone and slid it back into his pocket, looking both nervous and uncomfortable.

                “Here, let me help you pick up your books,” he said in a dazed voice, very foreign to his usual manner.

                Broderick’s friends stared at him in utter disbelief as he bent down and picked up the books. Soon, he and I had collected all of my materials. He even extended a hand to help me off the floor, offering to get me napkins for my hair and face, the latter of which I declined.

                Without another word or look at me, he darted off toward his next class. His puzzled friends followed, demanding to know what had just happened. I stared after them, equally perplexed.

                “You alright?” I heard a voice behind me ask.

                I turned to find myself face-to-face with a young woman I had never met before. She was short, about my own height, with an average build, thick glasses and a severe case of acme, which blended with the divots and freckles already lining her face. If this wasn’t enough to make her stand out, she was wearing a baseball cap, without the slightest hair visible underneath, only smooth skin extending up the length of her head and neck, like the cancer patients one sees on TV.

                More important, though, she had the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. Just as beautiful, were her eyes. The emerald green orbs sparkled in the light filling the hallway, leaving me breathless as I gazed back into them. For a moment, I just stared at her, completely lost for words. Finally, I managed an embarrassed.

                “Yes, thank you for asking.”

                She continued smiling at me.

                “I don’t think we’ve met before,” she said. “My name is Clarise, though most people tend to call me Claire.”

                “I’m Scott,” I said.

                “Nice to meet you,” she replied. “I just moved here last weekend, but I’ve seen you walking on the way to school in the morning. Someone said you are new here too!”

                “I am,” I said. “Apparently, that gives people a free right to pick on me, although I’m still a bit confused on why Broderick acted the way he did at the end.”

                “He did it because of me,” she said. I looked at her surprised. She was still smiling at me. “I sent him a text on his phone warning him that he better be nice to you or else…well, let’s just say…I made it clear he’d regret it.”

                I wanted to laugh at the idea of a skinny young girl intimidating a big jerk like Broderick. The way she said the words, though, made it clear, they weren’t a joke.

                “Why would he be afraid of you?” I asked.

                “Oh, he didn’t know it was me,” she said. “I just made the message pop-up on his phone, and I turned the volume on to max so he’d hear it.”

                “How did you do that?” I asked, intrigued.

                “Easy,” she said. “He left his Bluetooth on.  I used an app on my phone to find his signal and was able to connect to it. I imagine the pure randomness of receiving an unknown message like that and having someone mess with his phone was enough to throw him off.”

                “That is pretty cool,” I said.

And I meant it. I am something of a nerd when it comes to technology and this trick was something I had never heard of before. She seemed flattered by my interest.

“I can show you how I did it,” she said, excitement evident in her voice.

At that moment, the warning bell sounded, signaling one minute until the start of class. Claire looked around in alarm. The hall was practically empty.

“Oh no, we better go,” she said. “Hey, want to meet at lunch?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll spot for you!”

“Great, see you then,” she flashed me another smile, turned and darted down the hall.

When lunch came, I spotted her sitting in the back corner of the cafeteria, several seats away from everyone, except for another boy and girl seated with her. She spotted me as I entered and waved excitedly at me, her face beaming.

Sack lunch in hand, I crossed the cafeteria toward the group. She signaled for me to take the chair next to her, which I did gladly, once again finding myself admiring the beauty of her smile.

I recognized the two other kids in her group. The overweight and somewhat geeky-looking boy, as if I had a lot of room to talk on the later, was Roger. The girl, a rather shy brunette, with a noticable underbite, which had messed up some of her teeth such that a few were pointed at odd angels and others had large gaps between them, was Samantha. Both of them were a lot like me, kids that were teased more often than not by the bigger and more popular clich├ęs at the school.

Taking a seat, I joined in the light conversation about the school, teachers, and recent homework. As lunch dragged on, however, Claire turned the talk toward more sober topics such as bullying.

“I know I’m new here but I think I’m pretty safe is saying, from what I’ve seen so far, that something needs to be done about the problems of bullying inside this school,” she said. “I mean, look around. Look at the way so many of the people here are treated. The popular kids and the jocks bully around anyone they like, pick on whomever they want, and treat anyone below them as scum. And, because they’re cool or great athletes, the teachers and administration turn a blind eye. Am I right?”

“Well, yes,” said Samantha. Her voice was rather high pitched, which I supposed explained why so many people called her ‘Squeakers’ - I only wished I could say they did so behind her back. “Unfortunately, there isn’t much anyone can do about it.”

“Actually, there is,” Claire said. “If you’ll help me, I can show you how to protect yourselves and all the other kids like you from the bullies.”

“You mean like stand up and fight back?” Roger asked. “No offense, but they are all a lot bigger than us, and I’ve already gotten my face shoved in enough toilets for not doing something they tell me. I’m not eager to invite it.”

“I don’t mean physical force,” Claire said. “I mean, handle them like I handled them today when they were picking on you, or you, or you!”

She pointed at each of us in turn.

“One doesn’t need to use muscles when they can use technology,” she explained. “Look around, the age of brute force is over. There is a new age coming, and it won’t be ruled by people like them. It will be ruled by people like us!”

She paused for a moment, for dramatic effect. We all stared at her, somewhat caught off-guard by the direction this conversation was taking, yet at the same time somewhat inspired by her enthusiasm, which was quite a contrast to the drab and hopeless experience of our school year so far.

“Look, I know I probably sound nuts,” she said. “And I know what I’m saying may be ridiculous on the face of things. But this is a new day. The Bible says, ‘the meek will inherit the earth’ and, I’m here to tell you: that time is now. Technology is opening a new world and those who cling to the old one will be destroyed with it. I’m not trying to be all dark and forbidding, but the truth is: the world is changing. The strong, the athletic, the good-looking, the popular, all who rely upon their little games to get ahead are going to fall to the wayside. It is people who know the secrets of technology who will rule the world.”

“Think about it,” she continued. “In the old days, assassins had to infiltrate places with their guns and find ways to kill their victims. Just last month, a politician was assassinated when a hacker took control of their car over its wifi connection and drove them off a bridge. Then, there was the recent death at a hospital where an attacker killed someone by hacking into their medicine dispensing device to administer an overdose.”

“Wait a minute,” Samantha said. “I will not be involved in killing someone!”

“I’m not asking you to kill anyone,” Claire said. “Sorry, that speech came out all wrong. I’m just trying to say…all I mean, is that we’ve entered an age where wealth, physical fitness, popularity or good looks are no longer the source to power. Knowledge is the new power. And, with it, we can defend ourselves, our friends, and the others at the school, who are just like us, from having to be bullied, beaten, and mistreated. I can teach you tricks that will allow you to protect yourselves the way I protected you from the people who were picking on you earlier. We can be a team.”

“Like the Avengers?” Roger asked. “You mean like heroes using technology to defend people from bad guys and bullies?”

“Exactly,” Claire said. “What do you think?”

“I like the idea,” said Roger. “It would be pretty cool to be a hero and defeat the bullies.”

“Great,” Claire beamed. She turned toward me and Samantha.

“I don’t know,” Samantha said. “I really don’t want to be part of something illegal.”

“You’re saving yourself and other kids from years of being treated like dirt scum,” Claire argued. “Isn’t making the world a better place worth a few risks?”

“Maybe,” Samantha replied uncertain. “I don’t know. Let me think about it. I’m gonna go get a snack from the machine. Anyone want anything?”

No one else did. She got up and left the table, leaving her tray behind.

“What about you, Scott?” Claire asked. “I can show all of the cool things you can do with technology. I know we’re both new here. This is a chance for us to hang out together, get to know each other, and maybe make some new friends like Roger here.”

The thought was tempting. True, I didn’t really want to be involved in anything illegal, but I did like the idea of actually having friends, for a change, and maybe making a positive difference in the school. Truth be told, though, I think the idea of hanging out with her and getting to spend more time gazing into those eyes appealed to me the most.

“Well, I mean, yeah, I’ll give it a try,” I said. “I mean, we can see where things go. I’m always up for learning new things.”

“Good, I’m glad,” she said.

She rested her hand on mine for the briefest moment, giving me a smile, before pulling it back with a nervous gesture, as though she felt she had done something wrong. Thankfully, the awkwardness of the moment was broken by a loud crash. We looked up to see Samantha laying on the floor about halfway down the tables, a bag of chips slipping from her hand and sliding a short distance away.

There was cruel laughter ringing out from everywhere across the cafeteria. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that someone had intentionally tripped her. Now the crowd was enjoying the moment. One of the boys rose from his chair.

“Are you alright?” He asked, in a not very genuine sounding voice. “Here let me give you a hand up.”

He took a step toward her, his large foot coming down directly on top of the bag of chips, which crunched and exploded, sending shattered pieces of Lays across the floor.

“Oops,” the boy said, with a nasty laugh. “Here, let me get them for you.”

Samantha had picked herself off the ground, looking furious. The boy handed her the crunched bag of chips with a smirk. She snatched them from his hands, marching away at a brisk pace while everyone behind her laughed. She reached our spot at the table, slammed down the chips and leaned over the table at us, her eyes blazing.

“I’m in,” she said. “And I want them to be the first people we fix!”

“You got it,” Claire said, her smile taking on a more malicious tone as I watched her eyes drift toward the crowd, still laughing at their prank.

About that moment, the bell rang and everyone began collecting their stuff to go to class.

“Let’s meet here tomorrow and we can start discussing our next move,” Claire said.

Everyone agreed to this plan and we all grabbed our stuff. Roger and Samantha continued toward their classes but Claire grabbed my arm.

“Hey, I wanted to ask you a question,” she said. I noticed she was blushing slightly and she seemed a touch nervous. “I was wondering…I mean, it’s okay if you don’t…if you do, though…I mean, want to meet after school and walk home together.”

She fidgeted slightly from her nerves and her smile wavered momentarily as she gazed anxiously into my face. I smiled.

“I would like that very much,” I said.

Her face broke into a relieved grin.

“Great!” She said excitedly. “See you after school.”

She blushed, looking away, then turned and hurried from the hall, looking back only briefly to give me a small, nervous wave. I watched her go then started toward my class.
            For the rest of the day, I found myself thinking of her non-stop, so much so I could hardly concentrate in class. Yet I also found myself thinking about the statements she made, regarding the new age and how the world was changing. There was something dark about the prophesy, though its full impact didn’t strike me at the time. It would, though. Soon, I would understand it only too well.